By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist, NDSU Extension
“Woman loitering in Aisle 5.”
No one actually said that.
However, I was the woman in aisle 5.
I imagined someone in the security area was wondering why I was taking such a long time looking at products.
I had the day off from work and my husband did not. I dropped him off at work and went grocery shopping.
I discovered that 7:20 a.m. was an ideal time to have the grocery store to myself. I saw a total of four shoppers, just like in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
I enjoyed a peaceful time meandering around the grocery store.
Fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables including strawberries, oranges and lettuce beckoned me. When fruits and vegetables are in season, they also are at best quality and often their lowest price. Strawberries and grapes were on sale, so they were added to my cart.
Sometimes fresh fruits and vegetables can be challenging for a family’s budget. Canned and frozen are readily available and often more economical. Even better, all forms “count” toward the daily recommendation.
Most of us adults need at least 4 1/2 total cups of fruits and vegetables daily, depending on our physical activity. In general, men need more fruits and vegetables than women.
I picked up some canned pineapple and baked beans near the produce aisle. Acidic fruits such as pineapple and oranges are best used within 18 months of purchase, while the beans have a shelf life of two to five years, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Maximize your nutrition regardless of the form of fruits and vegetables you choose. Select canned fruit packed in juice to trim calories. Look for lower-sodium canned goods.
Be sure to rinse and drain canned beans before adding to your recipes. You can reduce sodium content by 40% in some cases.
As I wheeled my cart around the store, I came to the freezer aisle. The freezer aisle had some interesting fruit and vegetable products, along with many options for main dish items that just needed heating.
I paused and considered our available freezer space at home.
I noticed spiral cut vegetables, broccoli formed into tater tots, cauliflower processed to resemble rice and roasted corn ready for me to pop in the microwave.
These aren’t brand new products but I was intrigued. They were also similar in price to more traditional items. Would they be tasty?
I picked up a couple of packages of the frozen foods. We need a change of pace, I decided.
Sometimes I am asked if differences in nutrition exist among fresh, canned and frozen fruits and vegetables.
Let’s say you walked out to your garden, harvested your vegetables and went in your home and prepared them for dinner. Then you would have your peak nutrition.
However, we do not have that luxury during Midwestern winters.
Although some people may think that processing, such as canning or freezing, removes all the nutrition from fruits and vegetables, that is not the case.
According to University of California-Davis researchers, carbohydrates, fiber and minerals are similar whether the vegetable is purchased fresh or frozen. Frozen fruits and vegetables may, in fact, have more vitamins than fresh.
Fresh produce often is harvested at peak ripeness, then processed and packaged quickly. When you blanch fresh vegetables prior to freezing, you might see some nutrient losses but the losses are small.
Vitamin C and the B vitamins tend to be more “fragile” than vitamin A, for example.
What about canned? Canned vegetables, such as beans, are heated to higher temperatures but they last a long time on your shelf. Read the nutrition information on the canned goods. Those numbers are based on laboratory work.
Lycopene (the red pigment in tomatoes) and beta carotene (the dark gold pigment in canned pumpkin) are enhanced by the commercial canning process, according to published research.
For best quality, use canned vegetables by the date on the can; however, they are “safe” longer.
As I looped around the store, I picked up fresh meat, eggs, cheese and bread on my shopping list, then proceeded to the checkout stand.
“Woman finally leaving store,” I could imagine the security people saying.
If you have a garden plot, garden boxes or even some containers, consider planting some tomatoes, peppers and other produce to enjoy. At that point, you can consume fresh, or you can freeze or can some for later. See https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/food for a wide range of information about growing, preparing and preserving all kinds of food.
Check out your refrigerator or freezer and pantry for the ingredients in this tasty dip.
15-oz. can pumpkin puree
8 oz. Cool Whip, thawed
1.5 oz. vanilla instant pudding mix (sugar-free, if you prefer)
1/2 to 1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice (optional, to taste)
Apple slices or graham crackers (for dipping)
Cream together all ingredients with an electric mixer until well combined and fluffy. Chill in the fridge until ready to serve. Serve with apple slices or graham crackers.
Makes five cups. Each 1/2 cup of dip has 80 calories, 2.5 grams (g) fat, 0 g protein, 15 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber and 30 milligrams sodium.
Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences. Follow her on Twitter @jgardenrobinson